In Santa Clara County, one increasingly hears the argument that "farming is doomed." Farmers have told CGF that it isn't just a matter of them wanting to make windfall profits by selling to developers, but that they can't make any profits at all being farmers in the County. While this is likely an exaggeration, there may be an element of truth to it as well. Farming is certainly no longer a dominant feature of our local economy. As compared to other counties in California, local farmers probably face higher labor costs; more expensive and difficult access to equipment, supplies, and processing plants; and more conflicts with neighbors. On the less-savory side, farmers elsewhere are probably less-scrutinized and therefore more likely to cut corners on environmental protection, worker safety, and worker rights.
So what can we do to balance the scales? There has been increasing focus on agricultural mitigation lately: if a development or city plan involves converting land use away from agriculture, then some mitigation method such as buying development rights on other farmland has been suggested, and sometimes required. While this step may be necessary, it may not be sufficient if farmers can't make a profit.
Here's an idea to consider: requiring developers to pay agricultural preservation fees, just as they have to pay infrastructure fees to pay for roads, schools, and services that their projects will require. The agricultural preservation fees could be used to finance local farmers' markets featuring local products. Hopefully, this would reduce the distribution costs of local produce and make them more competitive, if the produce does not have to pay for the costs of the land where the markets exists or the buildings they operate in. This could be one additional step from agricultural mitigation to agricultural preservation in Santa Clara County, one that local governments might consider, and one that CGF might ultimate adopt as a tool for preserving farming.